Embarrassment of Riches

The Bears have a load of talent on defense and the unit is once again expected to be among the best in the league. While everyone is back for one more season, not all the players are necessarily happy.

Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs was demoted to second team during the early-June mini-camp because he dropped out of the Bears' "voluntary" off-season program hoping to create some impetus for a new contract a year before he hits unrestricted free agency. But he will not be playing behind Leon Joe once training camp gets under way.

Pro Bowl cornerback Nathan Vasher also skipped some OTAs, complaining that the $900,000 he will make over the next two years was unfair in relation to the $9 million that nickel cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. will make over the same period. By almost all accounts, the Bears overpaid for Manning (up to $21 million over five years), but they were determined to upgrade the secondary after the Panthers' Steve Smith abused them in a divisional-round playoff loss last season. With Vasher, Charles Tillman and Manning, the corner position should be a plus this season.

The defense also got a boost in the draft, with the Bears' first selection going for defensive back Danieal Manning. The second-round pick from Abilene Christian could take a job from free safety Chris Harris, who started 13 games as a rookie in 2005 but may have been force fed into the lineup. The Bears' second second-round pick was used on Miami's Devin Hester, who is listed as a cornerback but is raw at that spot. Hester will, however, upgrade the return game immediately with his big-play ability.

Another draft choice, third-rounder Dusty Dvoracek, could play a significant role at defensive tackle because Tank Johnson, who was a key backup in a four-man rotation last season, will not be healthy at the start of training camp because of a quad tear he suffered in February.

Punter Brad Maynard had a disappointing season in '05, and undrafted free agent Joel Stelly has been brought in to provide competition.

The defense carried the Bears into the playoffs in 2005, but let the team down in the playoffs. The unit is deeper than it was a year ago and will be the reason for the franchise making consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in more than a decade. With contracts expiring or becoming an issue, the only question is whether the reserves will have to be called upon to become starters a year from now.

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